4 Health Benefits of Corn

It's got all the perks of whole grains and more.

A lot of people are confused by corn: Is it a vegetable or a carb? And is it actually good for you?

Technically, corn is a member of the whole grain family—and yes, it can be very good for you. Corn is also naturally gluten-free, which makes it a good alternative to wheat for those who must avoid gluten. Here are four more unique health benefits of corn.

Corn Packs Whole-Grain Perks

As a whole grain, corn is in a health-protective food category. Numerous studies have associated whole grain consumption to a lower risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, per a November 2016 Journal of Chiropractic Medicine review.

But of course, portion size matters. Try to choose portions that are in line with your body's needs and activity level. For example, that would mean eating one ear of corn, a half cup of oven-roasted kernels, or three cups of popcorn in one sitting for most adult women.

It's Full of Key Nutrients

Corn contains a variety of vitamins and minerals according to a September 2018 Food Science and Human Wellness article. For example, one mineral that can be found in corn is potassium, which supports healthy blood pressure, heart function, muscle contractions, prevents muscle cramps and helps maintain muscle mass.

Yellow corn and sweet corn specifically can be good sources of provitamin A (a substance that can be converted to vitamin A), per the Food Science and Human Wellness article. Vitamin A supports the immune system and helps to form the mucous membranes in your respiratory tract, according to MedlinePlus. Stronger membranes form better protective barriers to keep germs out of your bloodstream.

Corn Provides Protective Antioxidants

Lutein and zeaxanthin, corn's main carotenoids (or pigments), help protect your eyes and have been shown to reduce the risk of visual issues like macular degeneration and cataracts.

The antioxidant quercetin has been shown to combat both acute and chronic inflammation and protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Quercetin has also been linked to apoptosis—according to a February 2017 published in The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology—which is the self-destruct sequence the body uses to kill off worn out or dysfunctional cells.

Researchers of a June 2020 Current Research in Food Science study noted that blue and purple corn have antioxidant properties, which means that they can fend off inflammation. They also guard against oxidative stress, an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects.

Corn Is Good for Digestion

You can get a good dose of insoluble fiber, which isn't broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream. Insoluble fiber stays in the GI tract, thereby increasing stool bulk and helping to push waste through your system according to MedlinePlus. This prevents constipation, reduces the risk of hemorrhoids, and may help lower colon cancer risk.

Additionally, consuming more dietary fiber is linked with weight loss, which researchers found in a June 2019 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Thus, corn's fiber may also help support weight management, especially in boosting the feeling of post-meal fullness.

What Else To Know About Corn

While there are more types of genetically modified corn than any other plant species, most fresh corn on the cob is not genetically modified. (The vast majority of corn grown in the US is used for animal feed and biofuels; a smaller percentage is processed to make various ingredients, such as cornstarch.) Further, if you're buying bagged frozen corn, you can avoid GMOs by looking for "USDA Certified Organic" on the label.

Also, while whole corn is low in fat (1 gram per ear) and sugar (3 grams per ear), it may be best to avoid consuming high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or corn oil. HFCS has been tied to an abnormal increase in body fat, especially belly fat, as well as blood fats called triglycerides. And corn oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked to pro-inflammation—especially when not properly balanced by omega-3s.

How To Add Corn to Your Diet

There are a number of ways to make corn part of your diet in a meal, a snack, or a dessert.

To grill fresh corn on the cob, pull down but don't remove the outer husks, and pull off the silk. Fold the husks back into place and soak the corn in a tub of cold, salted water. Remove, shake off the excess water, and grill for 15-20 minutes, turning every five minutes or so. Drizzle with dairy-free pesto or seasoned tahini.

If you don't have fresh corn on hand, you can also use frozen organic corn in a variety of ways. Thaw in the fridge and add to salads, soups, veggie chili, salsa, and stir-fries. Or toss thawed frozen corn with avocado oil, sea salt, and chipotle seasoning, and oven roast.

You can even incorporate corn into sweet treats, like ice cream or pudding made with coconut milk, and sweet corn cakes. Remember that popcorn counts too. Buy organic kernels and pop it yourself on the stovetop in avocado oil. Serve it savory, with black pepper, turmeric, and sea salt, or sweet, drizzled with melted dark chocolate and cinnamon.

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